Friday, 19 April 2013

"Will they won't they": a PCS - Unite merger

Last year there was some speculation and debate in the main civil service union PCS about the possibility of a merger with the Unite union. Since then it all went very quiet until now.

A Motion (A30) has appeared on the PCS Conference agenda from the National Executive Committee, which seems to indicate a merger is still on the cards, possibly.  Although there was a promise last year that the NEC would "report back", this seems to go a little further than that. For those of you who may not have seen the motion I have reproduced it in full below:

Conference welcomes the agreement signed with Unite at 
ADC 2011 and the passage of ADC 2012 of motion A72, 
noting that our unions share a commitment to fighting back
against the government’s unnecessary and damaging cuts, 
and to promoting a sustainable economic alternative based 
on tax justice and investment in jobs and public services.
Conference notes that nationally we have continued to 
build a mutually beneficial working relationship with Unite
on the TUC General Council and other bodies, including 
the civil service National Trade Union Committee – a close 
cooperation that has lead to greater influence on decision
making including the decision to organise a TUC demo in 
October 2012 in the face of the passivity of many other 

Conference notes that in the defence sector, Unite and 
PCS members have campaigned together including holding 
a joint lobby of Parliament over cuts; that in the commercial 
sector joint campaigning and organising has taken place at 
a number of companies, including Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, 
Atos, Steria and Capita; that in the English Regions and 
Devolved Nations we have worked together on anti-fascism 
initiatives, community projects, joint training, and campaign 
events. In a number of areas we have offered and received 
solidarity during disputes and attended each other’s picket 

Conference notes the joint 2012 PCS/Unite survey of
members finances and case studies of individuals affected
by the government pay and pension policy. Data from the 
survey has been used to show the effect that austerity pay 
policies are having on members. Conference welcomes the 
launch of the ‘68 is too late’ campaign, jointly with Unite 
and NUT, in May 2012 and notes that it is now supported 
by ten other unions – as well as the National Union of 
Students and National Pensioners’ Convention. This unity 
resulted in TUC Congress endorsing the campaign against 
the rising state pension age.

Conference further welcomes the joint working with 
Unite in campaigning over welfare. Working with Unite’s 
community membership, we are highlighting the impacts 
of welfare cuts on claimants as well as PCS members both 
administering and claiming benefits themselves.
Conference also endorses the decision to be a founder 
member of the Class think-tank, alongside Unite and other 
unions, to create and popularise alternative policies to the 
tired Westminster consensus.

Conference believes that the agreement with Unite 
has produced excellent results so far. Joint working has 
undoubtedly strengthened our ability to campaign to 
defend members’ pay, pensions and conditions.

Conference notes that A72 carried at ADC 2012 
instructed the NEC to explore with Unite how the 
relationship between our two unions can be developed 
further to the benefit of PCS members and the wider
trade union movement. In that context, the possibility of 
merger between PCS and Unite may be raised by Unite. 
Such a development would give rise to fundamentally 
important strategic questions for the union, such as political 
representation and lay member democracy, and must be 
considered with great caution.

It is possible that a merged union could create a new, 
powerful force for fighting back trade unionism in the
public sector capable of shifting the current passive 
approach of other unions which led to the squandering of 
the momentum generated by the joint union action over 
pensions on 30 November 2011.

A merged union could create a new type of union 
capable of bridging the public/private divide, increasing the
bargaining power of members in both sectors.
In general, a merged union could potentially greatly 
strengthen the independent, progressive political 
campaigning work successfully carried out by PCS over a 
number of years.

Conference therefore agrees that, if approached by 
Unite, the NEC is authorised to open discussions on merger. 
In order that the potential benefits of merger, as outlined
in this motion, are fully explored, Conference instructs 
the NEC that such a discussion must be conducted in 
a transparent and democratic manner which fully takes 
into account the principles which have underpinned our 
success in building PCS as a campaigning union: lay-led 
democracy and membership participation, strong workplace 
organisation and a clear commitment to equality. We 
further resolve that any decision to proceed with merger is 
made by an annual or special delegate conference followed 
by a full membership ballot.

Conference believes that, ultimately, the test to be 
applied to any merger proposals is the extent to which they 
can assist our members in fighting to defend their jobs,
pensions, pay and public services against the Tory/Lib Dem
government’s brutal and damaging cuts programme.

It occurs to me whether the recent (and very early election) for General Secretary in Unite, may have been influenced by the possibility of a such a merger with Len McCluskey wanting to be in firm control if it took place. Whilst Mark Serwotka will probably retire after his current third stint as PCS General Secretary, the influx of the far-left could pose a threat, especially with the larger than expected vote for Jerry Hicks, the indigenous trotskyist candidate in Unite.

Just speculation I know but......

As for the question of the merger itself, there seems to be no demand for it on the ground in PCS, but although sections of the far-left may favour such a merger it is not going to be quite clear cut. There are those even amongst more moderate PCS reps who may not be averse to a merger, especially those who are more Labour Party orientated.

Howver they may not get quite what they want with the thinking behind the motion which is quite clearly in favour of turning the merged union into a formation that would challenge the "passivity" of other unions. For "passivity" I would read "realism" because the PCS leadership just isn't on planet Earth these days. I'd say the Socialist Party is seeking to grab an opportunity to extend their influence rather than considering the needs of either unions members.

That's what they do.

Some PCS NEC members appear to be "ambivalent" on the issue as Ian Albert of the PCS Democrats recently wrote to me:

In terms of PCSD, our position is, as with any approach from another TUC affiliate be it Unite, Unison or Prospect etc, is to consider whether are overall positive benefits for members in the round which outweigh any disadvantages identified. PCS is a product of unions coming together so situations and organisations evolve. Independence and political neutrality will be key considerations alongside membership democracy to name but three.

Any outcomes would be considered by Conference and subject to overriding decision and ultimate authority of a membership ballot.

Personally I would prefer PCS to remain an independent civil service orientated union, despite there being sections who belong to "privatised" and "outsourced" sections. 

At the moment I would not consider the issue of a merger with Unite to be a priority issue for anybody, but clearly any moves towards one must be open to scrutiny by reps and members.

In the mean time we must all remain vigilant towards the growing threat of the far-left in both unions. Their sectarian posturing has already wrecked PCS and could damage the wider trade union and Labour movement if it goes unchecked.

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